I’m back on the West Coast, and while I’m very happy to be home, I have Scotland on the brain… It’s one of my happy places. Amazing scenery, culture, and history; my beautiful friends, and a sense of home — something I still can’t fully explain. And after many visits in the last seven years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the majority of the country by train, car, and now, as a proper tourist, on a coach bus and a boat.
But there’s still a long list of things to see and experience. Because while you can fit 127 Scotlands in Canada (true story), it’s like Hermione’s purse. There is so much packed in such a tiny country. So how does one see it all or even a snippet? (And with a limited amount fo time and money??) Four words: get on a bus. To see what? Two words: Loch Ness. Because let’s face it, when you think of Scotland, you think of Nessie.
Loch Ness tour with Highland Explorer Tours
On my recent trip, I partnered with Highland Explorer Tours to go full tourist for a day of re-visiting Nessie and some Highland sights on their Loch Ness Explorer 1 Day Tour. While I was originally meant to be in the Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle & the Kelpies day tour, the Stirling Marathon put a wrench in things. But Highland Explorer made switching tours a seamless transition, and I still got to see the highlights of the other tour, even if just in passing. Yes!
A 7:45 am start (it’s worth it, I promise!) on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile had me and 39 other people of various nationalities piling on to the blue coach bus to be cheerfully greeted by our lovely tour guide and driver, Caitlin. Mad props to Miss Caitlin, because she multi-tasked like a champ. (Driving and leading a tour is no small feat!) With great historical and personal anecdotes to share about what we were seeing, she was the epitome of the company’s “passionate about discovery” slogan. It was one of the most enjoyable history lessons I’ve ever had.
- Boat Cruise on Loch Ness – This is an additional cost, but I highly recommend it! Stunning views down the loch and a great learning opportunity. Should the wildlife be keen to come out and play, you might see a goat or another furry friend trotting down the very steep mountainside. Or meet a very brave puppy on the boat. (And for the record, I saw Nessie.)
- Fort Augustus – The southern most point of Loch Ness, Fort Augustus is a quaint Highland village that will appeal to all: the tourists who want to shop and explore, happy snappers wanting to capture the stunning views down the loch, or avid walkers and cyclists who want to enjoy the Great Glen Way.
- Glencoe – Site of the majestic Three Sisters and the horrific massacre of 1692 (apparently the inspiration for Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding episode), Glencoe is breathtaking. Maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, it’s one of my favourite parts of the country.
- Caledonian Canal and the Great Glen – The 60 mile canal connects four lochs, including Loch Ness, and is quite popular with the canal boat crowd. Built in the early 19th century, it was an engineering feat that took longer and cost more than it was supposed to; but it also provided much-needed jobs in the area.
- Ben Nevis – It was quite cloudy, so the mountain peak was well hidden. But Ben Nevis a.k.a. venomous mountain (eek) is incredibly impressive and a challenging hike for those who want to take a crack at it. Britain’s highest peak is not for the faint of heart or unprepared.
- Not part of the tour, but included in the scenery and commentary: Stirling Castle, Doune Castle, and the Kelpies.
- Learning an incredible amount from your amazing tour guide.
- The Wildlife – As we had some time, Caitlin brought us to see and feed a family of Highland Coos (not a typo, it’s how they say and spell it) at the Trossachs Woolen Mill. They are seriously adorable animals; and, despite their size, very gentle.
Bus Tour Tips and Etiquette
- Seat Strategy #1 – If you can, get a window seat. This sounds obvious, but I’m still putting it out there.
- Seat Strategy #2 – Claim your seat for the duration of the tour. Someone “stole” my window seat, but with the reminder to myself that I had already seen much of the scenery, it allowed me to settle back and enjoy the tour (and people’s reactions of delight) that much more.
- Capture the Moment – Be okay with the fact that most of your photos are going to be taken from on the bus — with window glare and the tops of people’s heads at the bottom of the frame. There are ample off-the-bus photo opportunities, but you know you won’t be able to help taking pictures on the bus.
- Share – If you have the window seat, don’t block the view.
- Enjoy – With the above in mind, take some time to enjoy the scenery without a camera in front of your face.
- Get Social – If you’re solo or even with friends, you still might need to ask someone to take your photo with Nessie!
- #GetThrifty – Bring snacks and a bottle of water. Lunch is included with the tour I was on, and they do bring you to a great deli called Menzies in the morning. But if you’re on a budget (like me) with a tendency to get peckish, it’s worth picking up some trail mix and an apple the day before.
- Be Prepared – Scotland is a mostly cloudy and rainy place. Particularly in the Highlands. (But clouds make for excellent photo lighting!) No need for your Hunters, but a small umbrella and decent rain jacket are my recommendations. To round it off, a larger purse or backpack is a must to carry your snacks and gear.
This was the perfect way for me to re-explore one of the more well-known areas of Scotland in a day. While I was a guest of Highland Explorer Tours for this mini journey (thank you!), the price-point for their one day and multi-day tours is excellent value for money. For more information on their tours, click here. (For all my fellow Outlander fans, they have a couple tours where you can visit places they’ve filmed, etc. Yes!)
You can also check out their sister company Haggis Adventures, which gears more towards the youth/student market.
“In Scotland, there is no such thing as bad weather — only the wrong clothes.” ~ Billy Connelly
This outing was made possible by Highland Explorer Tours. As always, opinions are my own.